There is some uncertainty regarding what Saul, who subsequently became known as the Apostle Paul, and those who were with him heard while travelling on the road to Damascus when Jesus Christ “spoke” to him, resulting in his conversion from being a persecutor of Christians to becoming a dedicated follower of Christ. In this regard, we will focus on Acts 9:3-7 and Acts 22:6-9, which describe Paul’s experience, as follows:
Acts 9:3-7: As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” So he, trembling and astonished, said, “Lord, what do You want me to do?” Then the Lord said to him, “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” And the men who journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice but seeing no one.
Acts 22:6-9: [Paul stated] “Now it happened, as I journeyed and came near Damascus at about noon, suddenly a great light from heaven shone around me. And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’ So I answered, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.’ “And those who were with me indeed saw the light and were afraid, but they did not hear the voice of Him who spoke to me.”
[Note: When we quote Scripture in this article, we use the wording in the New King James Version of the Bible.]
Acts 9:7 indicates that the men who were with Paul (whose name at that time was Saul) heard a voice but did not see anyone when Jesus Christ spoke to him on his journey to Damascus. In contrast, when Paul tells in Acts 22:9 what happened on his trip to Damascus, he says that those who were with him did not hear a voice when Jesus spoke to him.
John W. Haley, M.A., on page 359 of his book entitled Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible, explains that the Greek word that is translated as “hear” has “two distinct meanings, to perceive sound, and to understand. The men who were with Saul of Tarsus heard the sound, but did not understand what was said to him.”
This perspective is supported by Gleason L. Archer, who on page 382 of his book entitled Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, says,
In the original Greek . . ., there is no real contradiction between these two statements [in Acts 9:7 and Acts 22:9]. Greek makes a distinction between hearing a sound as a noise . . . and hearing a voice as a thought-conveying message. . . . Therefore, as we put the two statements together, we find that Paul’s companions heard the Voice as a sound . . .; but they did not . . . hear the message that it articulated. Paul alone heard it intelligibly. . . .
Likewise, Allen Bowman, Ph.D., on page 135 of his book entitled Is the Bible True?, states, “In Acts 9:7 the meaning of the word “hear” is merely to perceive a sound. In Acts 22:9, on the other hand, the meaning is to perceive the message which the sound conveyed.” In other words, Acts 9:7 indicates that the men were aware that something was being said, whereas Acts 22:9 indicates that the men were not able to understand what was being said.
The preceding discussion provides plausible, albeit indefinite, explanations of the differences in the accounts of Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus.